Reworked chassis results in the best-driving version of Bentley’s SUV yet
PRICE from $219,896
Forty per cent of all Bentleys sold are Bentaygas – the Continental GT accounts for 33 per cent, the Flying Spur the remaining 27 – so as with so many of its type, this makes Crewe’s SUV a big deal when it comes to the balance sheet. They might be big, clunky, inefficient machines but they keep the accountants happy and the investors willing to part with their cash to pay for whatever comes next.
Perhaps because of this profit-first approach the Bentayga has struggled to shake off its VW Group underpinnings, the exquisitely crafted interior only just enough of a distraction to mask the very un-Bentley-like driving experience. An experience that’s a little bit soft, a little bit vague and a little bit forgettable.
Okay, so the Audi 4-litre twin-turbocharged V8, which vies with the EA888 2-litre four to see which can appear in more VW models, doesn’t have a single drop more power or torque than in the regular Bentayga V8, so 542bhp and 568lb ft are still responsible for hauling 2400kg on its way to 100kph in 4.5 seconds and on to 290kph.
How it drives, predominantly. The Alcantara and leather mix for the interior is beautifully executed, the detailing subtle, and even with a sports exhaust suspended beneath there’s an intent to the V8’s soundtrack rather than a gruff sounding note for the sake of it. Outside, the body has been treated to gloss black trim replacing the chrome, a larger roof-mounted rear wing and tinted light covers. And while all this is welcome and adds some spice to the Bentayga’s appearance, the most significant transformation takes place once you’ve prodded the V8 into life and covered the first handful of kilometers.
It’s then that it comes to you the work that has gone into creating the S runs far deeper than an algorithm change to some of the chassis technology underpinning it. The spring and damper rates have been recalibrated to increase control, firm up the ride and better manage body roll, with the standard-fit air-suspension also tweaked to provide firmer support but not at the expense of comfort. The result is that in the Bentley or Comfort driving modes the Bentayga S feels more tied down, the pitch and roll eradicated to an extent that it’s only really now there to feed back when you’re beginning to push on it.
Wind the driving mode up to Sport and the S is able to show its hand even more clearly. An extra 15 per cent tightening of the chassis and an additional level of sharpness to the steering tie the big Bentley down further still, but still not at the expense of ride comfort, the S meeting the expectation that every Bentley should focus on cossetting its occupants rather than leaving them shaken and stirred and the rear-seat passengers’ champagne spilled.
There’s less vagueness to how the S goes about covering ground, too. It feels more connected to the road, less susceptible to being deflected by imperfections, with the electric anti-roll bars clearly earning their keep when it comes to isolating the driver from any unnecessary noise beneath and making for a calmer experience behind the wheel. The S is all the better for it, too. Tighter body control and a more natural way of reacting to inputs make it feel less cumbersome and flat-footed compared to others of its type.
Sport mode also brings with it a new state of tune for the ESC, relaxing its grip and allowing the torque vectoring to do its thing before the safety systems interfere. In reality you’ll need to take some sizable liberties to experience this benefit at speed, but out of slow, tighter turns the Bentayga S is more agile and willing to change direction much quicker than the standard V8 model on which it is based.
It’d be a big stretch to suggest a chassis tweak via software calibration transforms this luxury SUV into a bonafide performance car, but it does highlight the bandwidth Bentley’s engineers have available to them to operate within and what’s possible when they’re allowed to develop the software that controls the hardware. Which also leaves you asking: why not offer this set-up as standard? It takes nothing away from Bentley’s pursuit of ultimate driving luxury but it does add so much more.
Bentley Bentayga S specs
|V8, 3996cc, twin-turbo
|542bhp @ 6000rpm
|568lb ft @ 2000-4500rpm
This article originally appeared at evo.co.uk
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